Cumbria signs up for multi-million pound superfast broadband boost

Fast, affordable fibre broadband is set to become available to around 93 per cent of Cumbria homes and businesses by the end of 2015.

Fast, affordable fibre broadband is set to become available to around 93 per cent of Cumbria homes and businesses by the end of 2015 under the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme - as a result of a multi-million pound project between Cumbria County Council and BT.

The contract for the Connecting Cumbria project was signed today on the edge of Ullswater in the Lake District. It will build on BT’s and other providers’ existing commercial investment to provide England’s second largest, and second least densely populated county with some of the fastest available broadband speeds anywhere in the UK.

The project’s ambition is to bring superfast broadband to around 93 per cent of the Cumbrian homes and businesses via a new network of fibre infrastructure around the county. This includes working with some of Cumbria’s remotest communities to extend the fibre network through innovative community projects in the hardest to reach areas.

Cumbria is expected to be one of the first to benefit from the EU decision to grant state aid approval for the government’s national broadband rollout. Once government approval for state aid and confirmation of EU Major Project status is given, it means the government and European funding for the project can be released, allowing the project to begin quickly.

Openreach, BT’s local network division, will now begin the work on the ground with telecoms engineers surveying locations around the county and analysing the best way to roll out the network. This initial survey work will take around three months, so Connecting Cumbria should be in a position to announce which communities will be in the first stage of the roll-out in Spring 2013. The county council and BT will work together to prioritise a strategic roll-out so that the whole county’s best interests are served.

The installation of the network will enable a range of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer speeds of up to 80Mbps1 to a majority of the county’s homes and businesses by the end of 2015. Fibre- to- the- Premise technology – delivering speeds of up to 330Mbps – will also be deployed in certain areas and will be available on demand throughout the whole of the fibre footprint should local businesses want the ultra-fast speed it offers2.

Those premises in the remaining seven per cent who currently have very poor internet speeds will also see an uplift, as the project aims to deliver a minimum of 2Mbps or more to almost all homes and businesses.

Cumbria is one of the most rural counties in England and so the project will transform broadband speeds across the county. According to Ofcom, the county’s average downstream speed is currently 7.1Mbps whilst 18.8 per cent of the population receive less than 2Mbps. BT was chosen by the Council following an extensive and thorough selection process.

The value of the contract between Cumbria County Council and BT signed today at Ullswater is £51m. BT will contribute £15m to the project with £17.1m coming from Broadband Development UK (BDUK), £13.7m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and £5m through the Performance Reward Grant (PRG) from all councils in Cumbria. On top of this, additional ERDF and PRG funding will contribute to the roll-out and marketing of fibre broadband in Cumbria.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “Today’s announcement is fantastic news for Cumbria and I’m pleased that one of the first areas to benefit from the Government’s Rural Broadband Project is, in fact, one of the most rural regions in England. This multi-million scheme will provide Cumbrian residents with some of the fastest broadband speeds available in the UK by 2015.”

Cllr Elizabeth Mallinson, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member with lead responsibility for Connecting Cumbria, said: “Although we’re still awaiting the final green light from Government, signing this contract is a clear message that Cumbria is ready for action. We are really pleased with the significant investment that is going into superfast broadband infrastructure in Cumbria which includes funding from both the public and private sectors.

“We’re all desperately eager to roll our sleeves up and begin the task of actually delivering superfast broadband to people who simply would not have got it without the intervention of the government and county council. We have a tremendously exciting three years ahead of us, but I would ask people to be patient and allow us to deliver this huge programme in a strategic way which is in the best interests of the county as a whole. The hard work starts now and we need to work together so that by the end of 2015 Cumbria has one of the best fibre networks in Europe.”

Bill Murphy, Managing Director, BT Next Generation Access, added: “The project is incredibly important for Cumbria and BT is proud to be a part of it.

 “Cumbria’s scattered population combined with its comparatively large size and challenging geography, means that small business plays a pivotal role in the county’s economy and the rollout of fibre broadband will act as an economic driver for those rural businesses.

“The statistics show that in Cumbria, something like 7,000 businesses operate from villages, hamlets and isolated properties, which is why BT is committed to helping push fibre to those that are hardest to reach, offering a helping hand to the small community projects where residents are helping to build their own superfast connections.”

BT’s network will be open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis and so Cumbria consumers and businesses will benefit from a highly competitive market, in turn bringing greater choice and affordable prices.

For local businesses, the superfast broadband network will underpin the introduction of many new services and applications. Users will be able to run multiple bandwidth-hungry applications at the same time and receive large amounts of data much more quickly and efficiently. Computer processing and storage of files will also become more sophisticated and secure using “cloud computing” technology. There will be faster back up of computer systems and wider use of high quality video conferencing within firms and between them and their customers.

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1These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.

2Openreach intend to levy an installation charge for FTTP on demand when the product is launched. It will be up to service providers to decide whether they pass that onto businesses or consumers wishing to take advantage of the product.